A Simple But Elegant Veal Dinner Calling For A Rich, Fruity Chardonnay

Posted: April 16, 1986

Though we have become blase about many foods, veal still has the mystique of being an elegant entree, a special treat for a grand occasion.

However, because the tender morsels can be pounded into paper-thin portions that look massive, it's really not that extravagant. And because it is so elegant, you can get by with a simple presentation, such as our sauteed veal in brown butter sauce.

The highlight of this meal is the vegetable. We've created a spinach custard that dresses up the plate and adds a wonderful taste when paired with the veal.

The wine of choice is white - a big Chardonnay for a rich combination or crisp sauvignon blanc for a refreshing pairing. We tried several red wines, but found that the heavy berry flavors of a merlot, pinot noir or Cabernet Sauvignon overpowered the nuances of the veal.

To round out this elegant meal, begin with a green salad, sprinkled with almonds and seedless grape halves and dressed with a lightly sweetened honey- mustard vinaigrette. For dessert we suggest a Grand Marnier souffle with raspberry or chocolate sauces, if you have time. If not, try orange slices macerated in Grand Marnier, spooned beside a slice of pound cake.

Here is a look at the food and wine matches:

BEST MATCH, SAFE BET, BEST BUY. Glen Ellen Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 1982 ($13.25). This is a rich wine with overtones of lemon that was well suited to the flavors in the veal and custard. The butter in the sauce, along with the creaminess of the custard, the metallic taste of the spinach and the pungent taste of the garlic, married well with the rich, buttery qualities in the wine. The acids - that tingling quality in the wine - leave a refreshing, fruity aftertaste. The key to this match is the complementary weight of the wine and the food, and the fresh lemon qualities that clean up the flavors. If this isn't available, try another rich Chardonnay such as the Edna Valley.

A CRISPER ALTERNATIVE. Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 1984 ($14). Sauvignon blanc, as compared to Chardonnay, usually has a crisper flavor that is more citrus and herbal. Those characteristics are present in the Matanzas Creek, but we chose this wine specifically for the richness that is uncommon in most wines of this varietal. This makes the weight of the wine and food compatible, but it also brings an even crisper, lemony note to the combination. If the Matanzas isn't available, try the Mondavi or the McDowell Valley Vineyards fume blanc.

VEAL WITH SPINACH CUSTARD

For the custard:

3 cups spinach, stemmed, rinsed and snipped

Butter for molds

6 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves (or 2 teaspoons fresh)

1 tablespoon minced onions

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the veal:

12 veal medallions (about 2 1/2 or 3 ounces each) pounded thin

Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup fine, soft bread crumbs

2 tablespoons, plus 1 stick softened unsalted butter

1/4 cup Chardonnay

1/4 cup vinegar

1 large shallot, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon minced parsley

For the custard: Drop the snipped spinach into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain well and firmly press as much moisture as possible out of the spinach.

Lightly butter six custard cups (4 to 6 ounces each) or souffle dishes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the cream and milk. Add the tarragon, onions, garlic, nutmeg, salt and spinach. Stir to mix well. Pour the egg mixture into the molds.

Place the custard cups in a larger pan filled with boiling water that comes about two-thirds of the way up on the custard cups. Place in the oven and bake 15 or 20 minutes, or until custard is set. Cool 2 to 5 minutes and unmold. These custards can be held in the water bath up to 20 minutes before unmolding.

To prepare the veal, sprinkle the medallions with salt and pepper, then lightly dust with flour and bread crumbs. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet and saute the veal about one minute on each side until brown and crispy. Remove and keep warm.

Immediately pour the wine and vinegar into the pan to deglaze. Add the shallot and boil for three to five minutes to reduce the volume. Scrape the bottom fo the pan to incorporate the browned bits into the sauce. Lower the heat and whisk in the stick of softened butter, a tablespoon at a time. Strain the sauce. Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, white pepper and minced parsley.

To serve: Overlap two medallions on each plate, drizzle a little sauce over them and allow excess sauce to spill onto the outer edge of the plate. Unmold the spinach custard at the top of the plate.

To enhance the presentation, lightly saute whole spinach leaves in a little butter, salt and pepper until just wilted. Place the glistening leaves at the top of the plate and unmold the custards on top of the leaves.

Makes six servings.

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